After the fantastic performance in the UEFA Champions League against the Danes of Midtjylland, Atalanta returned to the field in Serie A against Claudio Ranieri’s Sampdoria. The former Leicester’s coach confirmed what we saw in this start of the season from his team by obtaining a stunning 3-1 victory. For Atalanta, it was the second consecutive loss in the league, after the one against Napoli last week. Too much turnover punished Gian Piero Gasperini, with usual substitutes and new signings not proving to be ready yet for the fantastic performances showed by Atalanta last year.
As we have just said, Gasperini made a number of changes after the team’s Champions League efforts. He used his classic 3-4-1-2 formation, with Marco Sportiello in goal, a three-men defense with Berat Djimsiti, José Luis Palomino, and Boško Šutalo, Johan Mojica, Mario Pašalić, Marten De Roon and Fabio Depaoli in midfield, and Alejandro Gómez playing behind Josip Iličić and Sam Lammers. Claudio Ranieri presented a 4-4-2 formation, with Emil Audero in goal, a defensive line composed of Bartosz Bereszyński, Maya Yoshida, Lorenzo Tonelli and Tommaso Augello. In midfield Jakub Jankto played with Morten Thorsby, Albin Ekdal and Mikkel Damsgaard, behind Gastón Ramírez who was supporting the veteran Fabio Quagliarella.
Atalanta’s build-up phase
In the build-up phase, since the beginning of the match, Atalanta used their classic “two blocks” structure. As we can see in the image down here, one of the two pivots comes down on the defensive line to begin the action, while the two wider centre-backs provide width. The two full-backs meanwhile advanced very high, to also give a more deep passing line.
Once they have passed the first line of pressing,which was often carried with much intensity by Sampdoria’s attackers, they often made passes in to Gómez. The Argentinian worked between the lines, playing as an advanced playmaker and taking part in all Atalanta’s attacking actions. However, as we can see in the following image, a lot of times Gómez was obliged to drop to the defensive line to start the action, forced by the man-marking shape of Sampdoria’s midfielders.
In these situations, we can see why Pašalić this season has always started as a “defensive” midfielder and never as an attacking midfielder like he used to play in the last few seasons. In fact, when Gómez drops to start the action, the Croatian midfielder is the one who swaps positions with him, as we can see in this image.
This not only gives one more option to Gómez, who most of the time keeps the ball instead of playing fast vertical passes, but it also forces the opponent’s midfielders to make a choice: going out to stop Gómez or staying close to Pašalić.
Ranieri’s tactical masterpiece
Fun fact: in the last nine matches between the two coaches, Ranieri won six times, Gasperini only two times. But, apart from the last games, the tactical ability of Sampdoria’s coach to understand and block Atalanta’s playing style totally come out in this game.
The expert Italian coach played with a 4-4-2 which was really compact between the lines, blocking all Atalanta’s game sources but always making a high press and attacking with a lot of players. As we can see in the image below, when Gasperini’s team raised the centre of gravity, the defence and midfield huddled together, creating an impenetrable block.
But, when Atalanta started the build-up from the back, the Sampdoria players never refused to press hard on the defenders or the defensive midfielders. As we can see in this image, attackers and wingers have always stayed really high on the pitch, forcing Atalanta’s passing and making their offensive transitions really difficult.
When Atalanta passed the first pressing line, Sampdoria’s attitude was very defensive. As we saw, it forced them to even bring the centre-backs in the opponent’s half to find a solution. Because of this, after recovering the ball, Ramirez’s technical abilities and winger’s pace allowed Sampdoria to be always dangerous in the counterattacks. As we can see in this image, that’s exactly how the third goal was born, while Atalanta’s defence was in numerical inferiority.
Damsgaard: the importance of Sampdoria’s new rising star
Arriving in the summer market for the important amount of 6.5 million euros,the Danish youngster took very little time to prove his worth. After showing amazing things at Nordsjaelland, despite being just 20, he already had a great impact also in Serie A: a goal against Lazio and an assist against Atalanta.
Particularly in this game, he showed how he doesn’t only have great technical abilities. He is already perfectly fitted in Ranieri’s tactics. And against Atalanta, his movements made a great threat for the opponent’s defence throughout the entire match.
Even though he is a really offensive player, he also did amazing work in the defensive phase. He has constantly helped Augello, and their double marking on Depaoli avoided Atalanta’s full-back danger for the entire game. And that was key for Gasperini’s playstyle, as we can see in the following image.
In the offensive phase, instead, he was able to exploit all his dynamism to be part of almost every chance for his team. What caused many problems for the opponent’s defence was his ability to start in wide areas and making run through the centre, not only in the offensive third, but since the starting of every counterattack. This kind of movement often created confusion in Atalanta’s defenders, who used to mark opponents man on man. And from one of these Damsgaard’s runs Sampdoria’s first goal was born as well, as we can see in the following images.
Even if Sampdoria didn’t create many chances, they proved all their concreteness. The veteran Quagliarella proved his ability to be still decisive even at 39 years old, despite the penalty error. Atalanta played their usual game, but as we said at the start of this analysis, many substitutes and a really bad day for their strikers didn’t allow the team to win such an important match. This great difference between the ideal starting XI and their second options is probably what’s still missing for Atalanta to be able to be a real challenger for bigger teams like Inter or Juventus.